Is it the “opposition party?”
Shortly after Steve Bannon, President Trump’s strategic and cultural Svengali, called the American press the “opposition party,” the opposition calmly sat on a Chicago stage and suggested the best path forward.
Their response? Reasoned and tough-minded indifference. It’s a de facto prescription that might drive the new tweeter-in-chief and his sledgehammer-wielding sycophants daffy in their search for a Jacksonian revival.
By rich coincidence, the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics Thursday evening offered an A-list group to mull how to cover Trump: CNN boss Jeff Zucker, CBS News chief David Rhodes, Nieman Foundation leader Ann Marie Lipinski and moderator-Yahoo News columnist Matt Bai. (Institute of Politics)
It followed a broadside by a man notorious for running a harshly partisan site that cultivated a huge following on the far-right. (The New York Times) And it was an hour notable for its candor (by and large), thoughtful tone and suggestion that the press should do its job and avoid being goaded into open hostilities with acidic provocateurs like Bannon.
Can it play out that way? Can journalists avoid a penchant for self-absorption? Can they make coverage of Trump not about the press — as Bannon so clearly desires — but about what is playing out before the nation with volcanic passion, deceits and Barnum and Bailey smoke and mirrors?
Lipinski, who would get the first and last words, opened by suggesting backing away from a fight and being quiet warriors for the craft of journalism. Managerial wunderkind Rhodes agreed, evincing no vitriol in saying Bannon’s “got a job to do.” Just don’t rise to his bait, said Zucker.
There was, for sure, ample contrition. Zucker, as he has previously, admitted his organization gave Trump too much airtime (though he did chide Trump’s Republican opponents for being too passive and letting him soak up the media oxygen). He was only a bit defensive when it came to qualms about his army of campaign pundits (he deems having seven “Trump voices” on his payroll as some badge of honor).
There was, too, as Bai noted, the Pavlovian reliance on too many crappy polls. And it was the Yahoo writer who raised important questions never fully answered: How does the press deal with having inspired so much public mistrust over the years and, as telling, what if it now does fine work but few are influenced?
If there was a single declaration that verged on the novel, it was Bai’s assertion that “the biggest lie of the campaign” may have been Hillary Clinton’s; namely the notion that hers was a “policy-driven campaign.” It just wasn’t true, he said, recalling his utter frustration in procuring any meaningful details about her alleged $250 billion infrastructure plan.
It was a meaty hour — nobody’s keeping their “mouth shut,” as Bannon “demanded” — with a variety of inside-journalism topics broached. Those included the need to be judicious in over-covering pedestrian White House briefings (a point made by Rhodes); the positive side of Trump-inspired heightened ratings and newspaper readership (Zucker); the perils of now feverishly “doubling down” on White House coverage at the expense of many other important matters (Lipinski); and the potential limits of fact-checking’s influence (Bai and Rhodes).
For sure, Bannon’s red-meat target audience would have been unmoved by these declarations of good intentions by representatives of the evil mainstream media. But it remained reassuring to listen to reasoned dialogue, given the premeditated Trump histrionics and fabrications (or “sincere beliefs,” as his surrogates, like Press Secretary Sean Spicer, would have it).
In the end, Lipinski reminded that most presidents dislike the press (she’d just been reading about Thomas Jefferson’s disdain). And she underscored to students that journalism is a great responsibility, privilege and calling.
When they were done, and I sat at a kids’ late-evening Chicago soccer practice far from the White House fray, I also realized again how this really is a dramatic period. The folks in charge crave significant change, partly driven by a sense of past victimization and marginalization. They hint at the anti-democratic impulses of banana republic strongmen.
It will take ample self-discipline, even courage, to keep one’s eye on what’s real, avoid breathless stories and get old-fashioned scoops. If this plays out as hinted in these early days, there may be no shortage of folks in government and Congress willing to leak like a sieve out of unease, frustration, even shock.
As the panel implicitly suggested, this could be a rather glorious time to be in the business as a countervailing force, if not an opposition party.
A tech twosome
“Amazon.com Inc. and PayPal Holdings Inc. have discussed letting shoppers pay for Amazon purchases using their PayPal accounts, highlighting how PayPal can attract new partners since its 2015 split from Amazon rival eBay Inc.” (Bloomberg)
“’We have been in conversations with Amazon,’ PayPal Chief Executive Officer Dan Schulman said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg. ‘We’re closing in on 200 million users on our platform right now. At that scale, it’s hard for any retailer to think about not accepting PayPal.'”
The Wall Street Journal on Trump-Mexico
“Donald Trump’s path to the Presidency as an outsider always implied on-the-job-training. This week’s lesson: The world is not a Republican primary. President Trump’s Twitter broadsides against Mexico have unleashed a political backlash that has now become a diplomatic crisis with a friendly neighbor.” (Journal)
So does Steve Bannon deem The Wall Street Journal wing of the opposition party, too?
Splitting ESPN for Fox
“Wieden & Kennedy has worked with ESPN since 1992, creating the sports network’s most iconic campaigns, and now the independent creative shop is parting ways with the company to take a shot at Fox Sports.” (Ad Age)
“Will it be an originalist?” Sean Hannity, a longtime Trump courtesan, asked the president Thursday concerning a Supreme Court pick he’s apparently decided upon. (Fox)
There are few more vivid examples of journalist ignorance than the invoking of the late Justice Antonin Scalia as a paragon of the sort of “originalism” or “constitutionalist” Trump should now pick. A Chicago Tribune column repeated the same palaver. (Chicago Tribune)
The folks who see Scalia as a hallowed “strict constructionist” are regurgitating what the University of Chicago’s Geoffrey Stone correctly tags utter nonsense. Scalia voted to give the 2000 election to George W. Bush and held campaign finance laws/gun laws/the Voting Rights Act/affirmation act laws to be unconstitutional. He was an activist, or a paragon of restraint, whenever it suited his ideology.
Good financial saga
The Wall Street Journal previously reported that George Soros lost about $1 billion in betting against the market after Trump’s win. Now Bloomberg passes along that the Dutch financial market regulator’s website accidentally published his short positions dating to 2012. (Bloomberg)
Those wagers on a stock declining “between 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent” of shares outstanding in the companies he shorted. But the regulator is only supposed to publish short of 0.5 percent or higher on its website on a daily basis.
Kellyanne Conway on media tweets
“If you look at Twitter feeds of some folks, what they write about Donald Trump would never pass editorial muster. And if you’re Joe Blow from The Washington Post and you say tweets are my own and you’re tweeting at 10:15 a.m. as you’re walking into a presidential press conference or a Trump rally, then your tweets are not your own.” (Washington Post)
As the paper notes, its policy is “that journalists can use personal social media accounts but they remain, at all times, Washington Post journalists.” Do they faithfully heed the stricture?
An ongoing Indianapolis Star investigation of sexual abuse in gymnastics discloses that Texas Rangers dropped by the Karolyi Ranch, where USA Gymnastics trains its top competitors, amid a criminal investigation of a former team physician.
The ranch is in a remote locale 70 miles north of Houston. The doctor has been charged with criminal sexual conduct with a person younger than 13 and possession of child porn. Investigators fund more than 37,000 images of child pornography on computer devices during a search of his property. (Indianapolis Star)
Trump and TV
As an interview with ABC’s David Muir and, last night, his Fox News flack Sean Hannity underscore, Trump is obsessed with TV portrayals of himself.
“More than any president before him, Mr. Trump is a creature of television and social media, a reality show star obsessed with Nielsen ratings who vaulted himself to the highest office in the land on the back of a robust Twitter account.” (The New York Times)
“President Lyndon B. Johnson kept three televisions in the Oval Office so he could watch all three network nightly news broadcasts at the same time. But with the advent of the 24-hour cable television era, other presidents have made a point of shielding themselves from the nonstop chatter to avoid becoming too reactive.”
No more. Check out this tale if you missed it. It’s a good reason the paper yanked reporter Peter Baker back from Israel, where he’d only recently arrived on a new long-term assignment after covering the Obama White House.
Glenn Thrush of The New York Times reports how Trump told a totally far-fetched tale to congressional leaders about Bernhard Langer, a famous (now seniors tour) golfer who lives in Florida. The claim was that he saw obvious voting fraud while lined up outside his polling place. (The New York Times)
First, it turns out that he remains a German citizen and can’t vote here. Then, Thursday, Langer issued this statement:
“Unfortunately, the report in The New York Times and other news outlets was a mischaracterization by the media. The voting situation reported was not conveyed from me to President Trump, but rather was told to me by a friend. I then relayed the story in conversation with another friend, who shared it with a person with ties to the White House. From there, this was misconstrued.” (Golf Digest)
Quatsch, as they say in German i.e. rubbish. It’s not the media’s “mischaracterization,” it’s Trump’s. Sorry, Bernhard. Let’s now see if any of the solicitous golfing press notes Langer’s blatantly false claim.
Speaking of golf
Most golf reporters were focused on the latest return of Tiger Woods. He totally botched his first round back in La Jolla, California, and Golf Channel announcer Nick Faldo, himself a great golfer was rather pointed in his critiques.
As Woods’ drives went wildly to the left, Faldo was taken aback by his seeming stubbornness in not drawing the ball, or simply hitting a fade, or moving it left to right. It was inside stuff but verged on the damning from a real expert.
The morning babble
As Rafael Nadal was in the fourth set of the Australian semi-final with Grigor Dimitrov, Steve Doocy of “Fox & Friends” opened cheerily this morning with a screw-you to Mexico president Enrique Pena Nieto: “They’re not going to come, but we’re still going to build that wall.”
Fox also supported Bannon’s attack on the media as an “opposition party” and reprised the words of former Obama aide and consultant Anita Dunn, who in 2009 said, “We’re going to treat them (the press) the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House…” She was, the Fox crew conceded, talking about one media entity alone, namely theirs.
CNN’s “New Day” focused on the “ruptured relationship” with Mexico, as David Gregory put it. “There seems to be no need for this to be so provocative with Mexico but that’s the way he’s started,” said David Gregory.
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” delved into the import tax side of the Trump Mexican plan. Steve Rattner argued that import taxes would constitute revenue that merely makes up for what you lose in cutting the corporate tax rate.
And Mika Brzezinski noted how during Sean Hannity’s interview with Trump last night, courtesan Hannity readily agreed with Trump that torture of terrorist suspects works. That puts both of them at total odds with the new Secretary of Defense.
Advice for the press
From Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report:
“Journalists love writing about themselves almost as much as the subjects they cover. But, while their concerns about a squashing of the free press are legitimate, they have to understand that most Americans aren’t interested in hearing their hand-wringing about the difficulties they are having.” (Cook Political Report)
Confusion over websites
A “chaotic transition of power” has “led to confusion over what government websites can display, what employees are allowed to do with publicly funded work and growing social-media activism aimed at rebutting President Donald Trump.” (The Wall Street Journal)
How did the press miss this?
Amid all the reporting about Trump meeting with Republicans at a GOP confab in Philadelphia, this fell by the wayside:
“Dismissing concerns that the controversial interrogation method constituted torture, President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that waterboarding does not even come close to the excruciating torment he himself experiences at every waking moment.”
Well, at least one outlet reported this. Oh, yeah, it’s The Onion.
Well, I merely face the challenge of chauffeuring kids to soccer and basketball game and practices tomorrow and Sunday. Piece of cake. Have a good weekend.